Text by: Massimiliano DonMax Romualdi
Translated by: Nicole Silvya Bouris
NOSFERATU – the prince of the night
Vampirism is a product that has always sold well. Today, and more generally in the last decades, has become a commodity, a mass product. Yet Herzog, retracing the steps of Murnau, reworks a classic horror masterpiece permeating it with a scarier and gloomier atmosphere. Just think of the scene where the boat arrives at the port with the invasion of mice, one of the most terrifying scenes of the movie. The first time I watched Nosferatu it had not caught my attention, or at least not entirely. Probably due to the fact that the remake took a lot from the original work by the director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. Today though, watching it again, I still don’t consider it the best movie produced by Werner Herzog, but I must admit that the Bavarian director offers a modern, fascinating product as a reconstruction of the vampire myth.
The film I am talking about is a more than enjoyable one, made in a sublime way and perfectly impersonated by Klaus Kinski who pays the role of the white and pallid vampire. Herzog’s aesthetic details are pure mathematics: the photographic construction of the scenes (we could nearly describe them as paintings) is amazing: the lights (natural) and the shades (mostly human made) build up and then destroy matter, making it flesh and then spirit; actors’ gestures are accurately calibrated and established, connected to the above mentioned lights and to photography. The final result is in fact one of the best remakes of movie making history, an agonizing Gothic masterpiece, a cry in Halloween’s night, spectators can only thrill for what they’re watching.
The director highly concentrates on facial expressions but not only, the fil rouge between Herzog and German abstract expressionism is clearly visible. Klaus Kinski is horrifying, he is a nightly prince that unsettles, an unstable figure. He incarnates evil. On the other side we have Adjani/Lucy Harker, who is opposing the evil Kinski vampire.
In the 800’s, Jonathan Harker, a real estate agent, leaves to close a contract with Dracula to sell him a villa. His wife advises him not to leave telling him she has a bad presentiment. Mr. Harker, though, puts work above all and prefers to leave for Transylvania. He meets gypsies whom tell him not to go to the castle, gypsies my friends! Nevertheless he decides to meet the count. The initial approach between the two is not as happy as expected. Moreover, as soon as Dracula sees blood, he starts sucking it from the agent’s wound. Homo fugit, the reader would say, but we are not in the story of Doctor Faustus. The house is sold, contract is closed, but during the night Jonathan spends in the castle he realizes how the sayings about the Count were so real. Victim of the events, prisoner in an inhabited and gloomy castle, after realizing the Count had left, he decides to leave by climbing down a tower with a rope. Meanwhile the Prince of the Night is hiding on a boat sailing to Wismar, place from where the agent left from, and as days go by, members of the crew just disappear.
With the Vampire’s arrival to the city, other strange things will happen. The Destiny of a whole community is left in a woman’s hands. The agent’s wife… while the city is destroyed by the plague.
Other than the scenes of the mass delirium, fantastic is the chase of the vampire and the psyco-physical destruction of the protagonist. The soundtrack, the photography, the natural lights, the external scenes are the cherries on top of the cake called Nosferatu. A movie that does not and actually can’t be compared to the recent generation movies on vampires.
Set during the XIX century with Klaus Kinski as a protagonist, The Green Cobra is a delirious movie, a piece which was difficult to work with. A torment that put an end to the friendship between Herzog and Kinski. The old Klaus was an actor with great artistic capacities and skills and at the same time he was a man full of interior conflicts, a beastly spirit, an unappreciated devil. With Green Cobra the relationship between the two worsens until Klaus Kinski physically attackes the poor Werner. Green Cobra is necessary to deeply understand the other side of the coin, to understand how the relationship among the two was determined not only by friendship but also by hatred and fights. The movie that came out in 1987, written and directed by Werner Herzog, is inspired by the story The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin, both works have as main theme the slavery market.
Manoel, a totally respected outlawed, interpreted by Kinski, is a sharp and intelligent character, dreaded and respected he lives with few real worries. With an homicide on his shoulders, with a nickname as picturesque as harsh (Green Cobra), Manoel sees passing right in front of him the greatest opportunity of his life: Don Octávio Coutinho, a rich estate holder, would like him to work in his estates. Manoel will be asked to control the slaves in the sugar plantations. Herzog’s ability is mostly demonstrated by how he is able to show us what happens in the plantations, the first part of the movie is set in Mexico but the stay is very short because he will have to move to Brazil. When the main character impregnates all three of the rich man’s daughters, Don tries to get rid of the outlawed. He tries to send him to Africa as a sentinel to the slaves. Manoel’s role gets more complicated and loaded of new responsibilities connected to risks. First of all it is correct saying that Manoel lives in an era where slavery is nearly ending. However, Green Cobra is able to get used to an environment, which is not his. He is very smart and closes great contracts, contracts that will bring him to antagonize the local king.
The slavery market is managed by the blacks themselves that, in exchange of some guns, agree to sell their own friends. Those guns are needed to divide among themselves the black continent. The plot gets complicated until the main character is condemn to die but…
Herzog direction is clean, even though photography is not by his friend Thomas Mauch, we can say it is great, the location is sublime. Green Cobra is a movie that demonstrates that it is actually possible to connect spectacular and landscape beauty. This is the main virtue of the director. Interesting is the main theme of the movie: slavery and human deportation from one part of the world to another. Just as an FWI, ten million individuals were transported from Africa to the Americas in only two centuries and many more during the compulsory migrations: the “trans-Saharan deportations” which happened during successive centuries.
The movie was filmed in Ghana, Brasil and Columbia, it was a great expenditure of energies, costs, sweat and effort. Even the decision of the locations was a reason of conflict between Herzog and Kinski. The latter was the one to decide some sets where to film in South America.